What My Great-Great-Great-Great Grandpa Taught Me

I didn’t have to put on gloves, but I was required to sit in a locked room to hold it—a 150-year-old record of a New England farmer turned desert frontiersman. The spine was weary from use, and the faux gold leafing that declared his name was nearly too faded to read: Luman Andros Shurtliff. His words had been placed letter by letter with each peck of a typewriter and with the occasional mistake—there was no luxury of a “delete” key.

Holding that book felt like holding a life: though well-worn, it was still full of spunk and originality. The words of my great-great-great-great grandpa spoke from those pages as if he’d never missed a breath, as if he’d finished writing the last sentence only minutes before I picked it up. I was swept into Luman’s world of farming in Massachusetts and courting in Ohio, of digging graves in Illinois and teaching school in the Salt Lake Valley.

Black and white photo of Luman Amdris Shurtleff, an ancestor of the author

A Heritage to Inherit

I am not alone in being carried away in the stories of those who came before. During the commemoration of the 150th year of the pioneers’ arrival in the valley, President Gordon B. Hinckley gave a stirring devotional about the legacy the pioneers left us. He explained,

[These pioneers] were tired. Their clothes were worn. Their animals were jaded. The weather was hot and dry—the hot weather of July. But here they were, looking down the years and dreaming a millennial dream, a grand dream of Zion.

You are familiar with their story. You are the fruit of all of their planning and of all of their labors. . . .

What a marvelous thing it is to have a great heritage, my brothers and sisters. What a grand thing to know that there are those who have gone before and laid out the way we should walk, teaching those great eternal principles that must be the guiding stars of our lives and of those who come after us. [“These Noble Pioneers,” 2 February 1997]

My great-great-great-great grandpa’s life isn’t just a fascinating story, but as President Hinckley pointed out, it is a case study that points me to God’s guiding stars. By following his example, I can learn eternal truths, serve more effectively, and find the courage to do hard things.

A Guiding Star to Follow

And yet as Luman lived his life, did he really think about the legacy he was leaving? I doubt he was trying to be a hero, to leave a great heritage, or to garner any earthly fame. I wonder how he would feel to see me reading his journal in an air-conditioned room in the basement of the BYU library, where his words are so valuable that they are kept off of the high-traffic shelves. Even in his wildest dreams, he probably couldn’t have imagined this world some 150 years into the future, with its cars and smartphones and skyscrapers made of glass—especially not in the Utah desert of the 1840s. But despite the change in technology and in the state’s appearance, his faith shines just as bright, and his consistent obedience serves as one of my guiding stars.

A Legacy to Leave

Just like Luman, I can’t imagine what the world will be like in 150 years. What lengths will my posterity will have to go to in order to read my journal, and what kind of heritage will I have left them? Yet, through the uncertainty, I do know that there will be some things that stay the same. My life will either manifest the blessings of following those same eternal principles that Luman exemplified or show the consequences of ignoring them. It’s my choice.

President Hinckley shared the significance of living true to our legacy:With so great an inheritance, we must go forward. We must never let down. We must hold our heads high” (“These Noble Pioneers”).

I may not be a Luman, travelling from Kirtland to Nauvoo to Winter Quarters to the Salt Lake Valley, but I can look to his example and the guiding stars he followed, and then face my own frontiers with faith. And I too can add light to the guiding stars of the past and protect them from fizzling out.


Ashley Young

Ashley Young is an aspiring editor with a passion for em dashes, road trips, and pumpkin muffins. Though she professes to not be a morning person, she loves to watch the sunrise as she finishes a long run. She is currently interning with BYU Publications & Graphics and is loving every second of it.

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